Napster, Gnutella... and Josef Stalin?

At Jupiter Plug.In music forum, AOL-Time Warner merger exec decries the evils of file-swapping, but tells music industry to wake up

During a single 30 minute speech Monday, the man in charge of the "vision" for Time Warner and AOL's marriage compared Napster, Gnutella and the rest of the file-swapping community to Satan, Cold War communists and airplane hijackers.

If not stopped, the 21million-plus and growing community could usher in a cultural apocalypse that threatens to plunge the world into darkness not seen since the turn of the last millennium, Richard Parsons believes.

But while vilifying them as "immoral and illegal", Parsons also conceded that the revolution started by Shawn Fanning and his Napster program badly scooped the traditional recording industry to a huge market potential unprecedented since songs were recorded and sold on the open market, he told a gathering of music industry executives Monday.

In perhaps one of the more blatant admissions by a recording industry executive to date, Parson said that to survive, the big five record companies must get off the sidelines and start playing on the MP3 field.

"The major labels have been asleep at the switch," Parsons said during a keynote address to the Jupiter Plug.In forum on online music.

"We've been too complacent. We have been asleep at the switch. But we are asleep no longer. Record companies have got to get in the game. We must use this technology to bring our music to the widest possible audience."

According to Jupiter Communications analyst Aram Sinnreich, most of the recording labels now fighting Napster have yet to make any kind of aggressive digital download strategy.

Parsons is predicting, however, the first should start showing up by the end of this year. But don't mistake Parson's admission for a tone of contrition, or even cooperation with the Napster community, he said.

In fact, Parsons predicted that the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) would win its lawsuit that seeks to shut down Napster. The case comes before a San Francisco federal judge this week.

"We will win, of that I promise you," he said.

Parsons also dismissed a finding by Jupiter Communications announced last week that Napster users are more likely to buy music after downloading an MP3, survey findings that essentially said Napster is helping, not hurting, the same record companies.

By that same logic, he said, "It would be all right for me to steal your car as long as I take it somewhere to be washed."

If catch-up is what they are playing, the recording industry lost yet another step to Napster and its chief executive Hank Barry, the former Liquid Audio lawyer now steering Napster through the industry and legal minefields.

Barry announced Monday that Napster and Chris Blackwell's Sputnik7.com have entered into a cooperation agreement, which will begin with Sputnik7.com featuring an MP3 version of the single by new artist Elwood, which has been available on Napster for weeks.

The deal is significant because it marks one of the first actual deals between Napster and another in the music community.

The recording industry thinks Napster is about piracy. It isn't. In fact, Jesse Berst reckons the recording industry is going to be out of business unless it learns the importance of three things from Napster: cost, convenience and single-song sales. Go to AnchorDesk UK for the news comment.

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